by Jeremy Mele / Staff writer
Our President-Elect Donald Trump says a number of horrible things on a daily basis that it can be hard to keep track, and it has gotten to the point where it almost seems intentional. By tweeting new, awful, material consistently, he assures that we never stay mad at any one thing he says or does for too long. He’s pumping out controversies too quickly for anyone to be able to keep on top of all of them.
Still, the fact of the matter is that the things Trump says are often troubling, often even terrifying. On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the man who is to be our president and is tasked with honoring our Constitution and defending our rights, tweeted this: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Now, this may not seem like a big deal to some people. After all, burning the flag is disrespectful, and people who do so should face some kind of punishment. If someone hates this country enough to burn its flag, maybe they should have the citizenship revoked.
While I am sympathetic to those who do not wish to see the flag of their country burned—a sense of patriotism is a very powerful thing instilled in many at a young age—I ask those who might initially look favorably upon Trump’s comment to try to see the precedent punishing persons who burn the flag would set.
Flag burning, though disliked by some, is protected under our Constitutional right to free speech. CNN reports, the Supreme Court decided this twice. A person has a right to express their opinion, and it would be a very dangerous thing to start curtailing that right on the basis that some find the opinion expressed offensive. Once that precedent is set, our right to free speech will be lost. After all, why stop at flag burning? Why shouldn’t any disparaging comment made about this country be punished similarly and on similar grounds?
People should be able to freely express their discontent with their government without fear of punishment, and they should not be locked up or have their citizenship revoked just because they express that discontent through the burning of the flag (assuming it’s their own flag they burn and not someone else’s they are destroying).
The American flag may represent noble ideals, but at the end of the day, an individual flag is just a piece of fabric, and protecting a piece of fabric is nowhere near as important as protecting the rights of the American people.
The First Amendment of the Constitution promises that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Flag burning, though it may be distasteful to some, is a way for many to express a grievance with their government. This is a reminder that President-Elect Trump wants to revoke our right to such free speech when he is inaugurated this January. We should not forget that he tweeted such an intent, even as he creates new controversies and complains about unfair depictions of himself on Saturday Night Live.